Saturday, December 14, 2013

BUZZ KILL, Number Five in the Fish and Games Series

North coast bound and Van Morrison coming at me from all four speakers:

I can hear her heart beat for a thousand miles
And the heavens open every time she smiles
And when I come to her that's where I belong
Yes, I'm running to her like a river's song

She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love
She give me love, love, love, love, crazy love

Temperatures were over 70 with an afternoon devoid of wind and plenty of time before the low tide and maximum collecting conditions.  I was "feeling good" like James Brown said I should, anticipating a great afternoon of sun, rock gathering, and maybe some downtime with the novel in my backpack.  

Gear had been unloaded, and I was already across the barbed wire when I realized a music induced endorphin rush must have caused me to pull over at the wrong arroyo.  I was in the process of putting everything back into the car when a kelly green pickup pulled up behind me. 
What, my game warden friends wanted another chat?

There was the usual friendly but well practiced greeting.
"How you doing today, sir?"
"Great, except I pulled over at the wrong place.  I'm going to have to move about a hundred yards down the road."
"What's in those bags?"
"Nothing much, just my collecting gear.  And I haven't even been down to the beach yet."
"Is it okay if I take look in those bags?"

My fine day was taking on an ugly and unexpected turn. Besides a lost afternoon, this might be the time I finally end up in jail.  But Van was still a presence:

Shes got a fine sense of humor when I'm feeling low down
And when I come to her when the sun goes down
Take away my trouble, take away my grief
Take away my heartache, in the night like a thief

"Absolutely, let's take a look," I said, responding to his not-really-an-option request since game wardens do not need cause or a court order to perform a search.  I waited while he approached the back of my vehicle. My choice of the word "absolutely," it seemed to me, was so very close to the dyslectic syntax of Yoda: "Asshole-you-be".
Yet I obediently begin another tour of my personal belongings.
"In this bag I have my windbreaker, the tow rope to get down the cliffs around here, sun tan lotion, a couple beers and a rock hammer."
"The other pouches?"  
"This one has my wallet, a camera, a can of sardines and a small pocket knife."
"Anything else?"
"Well, there's this plastic container filled with band aids.  I bleed easily. Long story there."
"What about the other bag, the orange one?"

Ah, take a breath now, I thought.  Think before you answer.
"Well, it's just glass... a bunch of empty bottles."
"And why do you have them?"
"Whenever I go to a beach, I like clean up some."
He proceeds to undo my bow tie knot and paw through my booze bottles: large wine, small wine, big gin, little gin, lots and lots of beer bottles, some blue, brown and green. A merry lot.
"Where'd you get all this?"

My buzz and the hope for this fine afternoon began to fade. But Van's words still echoed in my head, and I  thought of my wife:

She's got a fine sense of humor when I'm feeling low down
And when I come to her when the sun goes down
Take away my trouble, take away my grief
Take away my heartache, in the night like a thief

Show time.
"Where did I get all these glass bottles? Uh, let's see... two turnstiles down.  It must have been a big party."  
"Oh you mean the (something or other) creek access?  
I nod hesitantly, trying for all I'm worth to look casual.
He digs deeper into my farming supplies.
"Seriously, all this from just down the road?  No kidding it must have one heck of a party.  I'm having a little problem with this."
"Well, actually it was collected it over the course of several days."  (You idiot--never change your story midstream!  But I pushed on, appealing, I hoped, to his ecological mindset).
"I like to leave places cleaner than I left them, you know?"

"Do you recycle?"
"Of course.  Money for doing the right thing... Those are all deposit bottles, I believe." 
And I thought to myself that I actually do recycle (in ways I hope to God you, Mr. Warden, have not yet figured out).
"I do the same thing, actually," he revealed with some pride. "but why the rock hammer?"
I pause a moment and think how to put this, not wanting to sound smart assed...
        Question: So why do you have a tooth brush? 
        Answer: Obviously, to brush toilets, dumb ass!
Instead I say, "Because I collect rocks" hearing an odd sense of shame in my voice.
"What kind of rocks?" he a geologist?  Metamorphic.   A gemologist? Chalcedony.
"Moonstone, I say, just agate, as you know, and an occasional piece of jade--though local experts lsay it can't be found this far south, pretty sure they're wrong."  The "shut-up" sensors are now flashing red in some part of my mind. 
"It's illegal to collect jade anywhere along this coast except for Jade Cove."
Oops! Another of my TMI moments

"Really?  I hadn't heard that but good to know."   I decided not to complicate matters by explaining the difference between true jade and jadeite, a more accurate explanation of what I had actually found.

"In fact, it is also illegal," he continued, "to collect anything at all along this part of the coast, including rocks, all the way to a point north of San Francisco."
"Really?  I hadn't heard that, either." (and now I know why my wife says I tend to repeat myself)
"But I don't understand why," I continue with wide eyed innocence.
"Because this is a protected marine sanctuary, PMS."
"Oh yes, I've heard of that zone.  It starts at the cypress tree two miles south of here, right?"  (Shut up, shut up about PMS jokes, don't go there!).

"No, it starts at a point south of Cambria."
I was about to answer with another "Really?" but instead asked, "Are you sure about that?
Hard to argue against stone-faced certainty, especially when coming from a young, grim, and holstered ex-military type.

Still, I was pretty sure he was wrong about jade collecting, having read many texts recommending beaches north south of jade cove.

"I always thought the purpose of marine sanctuary was to, you know, protect marine life.  You know, living stuff in the water and not on the land," (hence, the designation"marine" but I withheld this last part).
"No.  This area is controlled both on land and sea by two jurisdictions, one state one federal."
I couldn't help myself this time, "Really?"
"Yes, and if one of the federal guys catches you with rocks, he will assign you a fine right there on the spot."
What federal guys?  What kind of vehicles do they drive?  I had been through this drill two times before with Fish and Game officials and made a point of mentioning the name of the previous warden.  The response from each person "interviewing" me was always a blank stare: "Never heard of him/them."

Stay focused.
"Hmm... And the fine you mentioned will probably have to go straight to Fresno, right?  I was having doubts about the depth of his local knowledge and wanted to see if he knew where the nearest federal court was.  A facial tic suggesting I was right--but no real acknowledgement of his ignorance.

"But you know, that's strange," I slid lightly along a knife edge separating challenge sincere curiosity, "because I've been detained and searched by two other law enforcement agencies besides your own, and they had no problem with my rock collecting" (maybe because they weren't just bored like this guy and more focused on their jobs: catching poachers and marijuana smugglers).  I decided not to pursue this point and risk any perception of being "uncooperative".

"So how do I know which of the two sanctuaries I'm in and which rules apply?"
He explained at length, evoking boundaries named after other obscure creeks and arroyos not even delineated on Google Earth,  I know, having tried at length to get this kind of information for another blog entry.
"Out of curiosity," I asked,c "how much would the fine be... something steep, maybe around $300?
"Well beyond that, I'm sure."

"Ouch! I sure appreciate you telling me all this.  I don't have the money to pay that kind of fine.  And to think here all along I've been operating on the fifty plus one per day rule."
No response.  A blank stare.  
"You've never heard the phrase before, have you... fifty plus one per day?"
I waited the teacher obligatory four seconds.
One, two, three...
That's when I decided that Officer/Warden Meyer was FOS (the first letter stands for "full," followed by "of" and you know where I'm going with the next word.

I covered my astonishment by rambling on, as if nothing significant had transpired.
"I mean it makes sense, right?  You wouldn't want some guy taking tons of rock from the beach to decorate his front lawn.  Not sure why they phrase it like that, though.  Fifty pounds of rock, give or take one, per day."

And this revelation was a puppy I decided to let be, further proving  that I must be dealing either with an idiot or someone very new to the area.

"You know officer... was it Nilmeir?" (I once had a student so named).
"No, Meyer."
"Oh, right.  Well this is all very new and confusing to me, and I'm not sure I've got it all straight in my Alzheimered brain. Could you suggest someone I could contact that might be able to explain all of this to me again so I don't accidentally violate some very expensive laws?"
"Yes.  Go south to the pier across from Hearst's Castle.  There's a trailer," he started to say then corrected himself, "actually a building called "The Discovery Center."
I waited a beat. Trailer bigot! 
"Oh, yes, I think I know where that is." (Duh)
"They should be able to explain it all to you."

"Well, thanks again, officer Meyer and would it be okay if I went on down to that cove I mentioned... just to clean up any trash?"
"Of course."

"Thanks, officer." (I should probably have addressed him simply as Warden God but decided his actual title was more likeky to be special agent--and why aren't there any "not so special" agents?).  But then maybe this guy was just new to his job, ignorant, and arrogant.

In either case, I wanted to assure good-will in case we met again, and deflect any interest in my quasi-legal hobbies.
"Oh, by the way, good work on that bank robber arrest.  We're you the one who took him down?"
"Yes.  Well no, not me, but one of the members of my unit."

Wrong on several accounts but not worth explaining if you haven't been following local news.  Also a fibp if I've ever heard one.  His choice of words: "my unit"?  Obvious military phrasing, not what would one would expect from an employee who draws a check from a department in our state.

"And out in the boonies," I continued with my ass-kissing, "it's always the warden that gets the call, isn't it?
Then in the interest of further good will, "And most of the time you guys patrol alone, totally without back up, don't you?"
He nodded.  And I hoped this last part would not be prrceiced as a threat.  Safety under the radar.

Yet here I was, picnic supplies, libations and a good book. No way I was going to let this unanticipated interrogation ruin my mood and thought again of Van Morrison lyrics and my wife.

Yes I need her in the daytime
Yes I need her in the night
Yes I want to throw my arms around her
Kiss her, hug her, kiss her, hug her tight

"FTS," I said to myself (the middle part of the acronym being "this".  Again, you can figure out the rest).
So I moved my car south and parked at the correct ravine this time, watching the green pickup head north toward Ragged Point. Before long I was throwing out my rope and sliding down a muddy cliff. Though I had just been there just a day before it now seemed different, like I had planted my feet on a new beach: sand and kelp, all piled in new locations.

Everywhere I looked there were agates, jadeite, and other interesting jasper/flint conglomerates.  The earth replenishes and abides, I thought.  I hesitated to pick anything up.  Then I remembered the warden driving off.  It would take him at least five minutes to circle back and pull over.  Then he had to cross a field and set up his scope (possibly a Redfield with Zeis optics unless his agency, whatever it was, lacked the funds to spring for the best).

So I picked up some moonstone/agates with exceptional clarity and slipped them into my pockets--not my backpack, oh no.  "Go ahead and search my bag," I imagined saying to anyone I met on my way out. Of my four previous encounters, only one had resulted in something so invasive as a weak pat down.  I left my other bag, filled with farming supplies, back in the car.  Too hard to explain why all those bottles had disappeared, nearly five pounds of glass, no longer to be found edcept by future collectors of beach glass.

Before long I knew enough time had lapsed for my law-enforcement friend to be ready and watching, maybe even taking photos through his scope.  And wouldn't you know it? Forbidden fruit and all, I kept finding some real beauties.

I picked up some of the more promising rocks and made an exaggerated display of tossing them aside.  Other times I would palm them--not even a Redfield scope, I reasoned, could detect a stone thrown from my hand.  Then I started to pick up two rocks at a time, actually letting go of one while keeping the other until I could casually pocket it.

Some of the rocks were a bit large... yet interesting enough that I decided to cram them into a back pocket.   This kind of hurt my butt, but my eventual plan was to put everything in my pockets into a baggie before I climbed the cliff and be ready to jettison it all.

Everything was ruined, however, especially my mood.  No peace. No reveling in the sun.  No sense of being master of all that I surveyed. Certainly not when suspecting I was being observed.  I ate some crackers and drank a soda. Seriously, just a soda.  Federal custody is serious shi--stuff.

The climb to the highway was tense.
To what length would this guy go to apprehend a heinous collector of rocks?  Each wavering shrub and cascading rock unnerved me. Eventually, I poked my head up over the brown grasslands, ready to duck down and throw out the illicit contents of my pockets.

My car was to the left.  Check.  I ducked back down, counted to five, then popped my head up and looked right.  No green pickups, no sign of rangers/wardens/or whatever waiting to intercept me. Check again.

And along the way home, I did stop at the Discovery Center and talked to an elderly gent (meaning my age, I guess) and was handed a list of government phone numbers, bureaucratic agencies that on a Friday afternoon were about as likely to respond as dialing 1-800-Hey-God and expecting The Man Himself to pick up.

Strange how I kept running into wardens with names that were unknown to my local contacts.  And what gave them the right, whether DEA, Homeland Security, or FBI, to misrepresent themselves and drive around in those nice Fish and Game pickups?

"Keep things in perspective," someone I love often reminds me.
I tried to do just that.  And after a few quick miles, I was home.

When I'm returning from so far away
She gives me some sweet lovin' brighten up my day
Yes, it makes me righteous, yes it makes me feel whole
Yes, it makes me mellow down into my soul.